Thursday, 3 July 2014

Poisonous Plants

Poison in the Garden
Ragwort (Senecio jacobea)
      It seems to me that you can overdo it when it comes to safety and poisonous plants. I've heard of people removing a Laburnum tree from the garden because their child may eat the seeds. This ties in with the wrapping- in- cotton- wool philosophy which ignores the learning potential in their own garden. What happens when the child plays in the park or friend's garden where the tree hasn't been taken down? The warnings and explanations which could have been gained at home have been lost. Many of the common garden plants are poisonous, including Rhododendron, Pieris, Hypericum, Euphorbia - the list is endless. And, because a plant is classed as poisonous, doesn't mean you are going to drop dead after a mouthful: apparently yew (Taxus baccata) which is widely known to be toxic, only carries out this promise after you've eaten enough leaves to stuff an average sized sofa. Maybe it should still be seen as dangerous but it isn't in the same class as telling the truth when a woman asks 'does my bum looks big in this?'

      I once suffered from mild poisoning when I'd taken the advice of a 'free wild food' book and tried chickweed, which is recommended as being fine in salads. I'd picked it in the garden and inadvertently included some sun spurge (Euphorbia helioscopia), which looks vaguely similar when you haven't got your glasses on. The Euphorbia had the effect of numbing my mouth and tongue so that I could hardly talk. At this point my wife, always sympathetic, said it was a good thing because it shut me up. There's a similar effect accompanying the consumption of the houseplant known as dumb cane (Dieffenbachia spp), the sap swells the tongue and justifies the common name. This is well known, but I pride myself in having personally carried out the ground-breaking research on sun spurge.
Choosey diner
      On the whole, animals seem to have an instinct which prevents them eating plants which may be harmful (although goats seem to be an exception to this). It's widely known that horses are poisoned by eating ragwort (Senecio jacobea) but they rarely eat the growing plant - only that which has been cut and lies unrecognised when mixed with  hay.

      Cows seem to be victims of other aspects of danger in plants: I was fishing on the River Dane opposite a fifteen foot high clay bank, when a cow appeared at the top of it and peered longingly at a patch of grass and wildflowers growing on a narrow ledge some distance below the lip. It disappeared and I thought it had decided to make do with the thirty acres of grass in its field, but a couple of minutes later it came back and repeated its thoughtful perusal. Then, overcome with longing, it stepped gingerly onto a bulge of eroding bank with the obvious intention of working its way along the face to where dinner beckoned. It got further than I'd have thought possible before the clay suddenly crumbled.

      I've always thought cows' faces were pretty mild and expressionless, but this one proved the exception as widening  eyes and gaping mouth conveyed a definite impression of surprise and horror. The accompanying bellow completed the bovine version of OH SHIT! before cow and large section of banking obeyed gravity and plunged into the river.

      I don't know how much a cow weighs, but it certainly displaces enough water to give Archimedes a 'eureka' moment. The resulting tsuname headed my way as I sat peacefully fishing and I sprang into action too late to stop my ham butties and half my tackle  disappearing into the torrent.

      I didn't catch anything after that.

1 comment:

  1. ast time I fished the Dane, Mark fell in at 7am on a freezing February morning. No way was I driving home so he froze all day, serve him right!